We gave the following testimony to the New York City Council's Committee on Transportation at today's oversight hearing on the present and future of Citi Bike:
After a bumpy two years following its launch in 2013, there’s little dispute that New York City’s bike share system is now on a roll. Through the second week of November, people have taken more than 12 and a half million rides on Citi Bikes in 2016 – a more than 25% increase from all of last year – and the system now boasts 120,000 annual members.
This past summer, Citi Bike continued its planned growth, expanding northward in Manhattan to 110th Street, and throughout Community Board 6 in Brooklyn, and thanks to that increased footprint and its additional bicycles, Citi Bike set a number of daily ridership records, hitting nearly 70,000 rides on several days last month. Next spring, it will roll out further into Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn.
However, while Citi Bike’s present is bright, its future is a bit less clear. No concrete public plans exist for further growth of the system once the Phase II expansion is complete in 2017. Will Citi Bike top out at 12,000 bikes? Or will it continue to grow to serve even more New Yorkers, delivering the convenience and efficiency of bike share to neighborhoods thirsting for reliable, low-cost transit options?
This committee, and the City Council as a whole, has a key role to play in shaping that future.
It’s well documented that a successful bike-share system is geographically contiguous, with dense station placements. That being the case, to properly serve as a viable transportation option in neighborhoods served poorly by existing transit, Citi Bike needs to continue to grow robustly. That kind of growth will only come with a public funding component.
Additionally, the city must find a way to extend the NYCHA discount to other low-income communities. As Bed-Stuy Restoration’s Tracy Capers said at a recent Rudin Center forum on Citi Bike, “NYCHA is not the proxy for poor.” We need to get creative in making the system accessible to all New Yorkers, economically as well as geographically.
We currently subsidize suburban railroad riders to the tune of several dollars a ride, while the subsidy for some of our ferry routes is two to three times as much. A meaningful public contribution to bike-share expansion would require a tiny fraction of that. A number of Council members have already indicated a willingness to contribute discretionary funds to Citi Bike operation, and now is the moment to begin figuring out what shape that public support should take.
We began running an online poll last week, in anticipation of today’s hearing, asking people if they think the city should contribute public funds to bike share. While the poll is unscientific, to be sure, more than 95% of respondents have answered yes.
Bike share is a relatively low-cost, high-return, on-demand transit option that’s healthy for its users, to boot. We need to begin planning now for the third phase of expansion, addressing equity and operational issues to ensure New York City Bike Share’s long-term success. Let’s make sure we keep Citi Bike rolling into the future by making smart decisions today.